Springfield, MO

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Tax revenues, tourist numbers up for 1998

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by Jan K. Allen

SBJ Contributing Writer

Retailers are happy with the 1998 season in Branson and expect the growth trend to continue.

Combined revenues from tourist tax and sale tax levies will go a long way in improving the infrastructure for the city, allowing the region to sustain the phenomenal growth it has had during this decade, said Jerry Adams, communications director for the city of Branson.

According to Adams, Branson has been aggressive in annexing regions where theaters, restaurants and other attractions are located to add to the revenue base.

Even with reduced revenue during the month of October while the legitimacy of the new tourism tax was decided the city had collected $4,749,633 by the end of June. This is a 6.65 percent increase over the same period last year, Adams said.

The 1 percent tourism tax increase reflected in the above total covers hotels, theaters, restaurants and other ticketed events, while an additional 0.5 percent increase in sales tax applies to merchandise.

Sales are up, and the 0.5 percent sales tax increase has brought this year's totals from this source to $2,352,288, also up 6.65 percent over the previous year's collections, Adams said.

On the strip, Patricia Broeckling, manager at Tanger Outlet Mall, said sales are up more than 7.5 percent over last year's comparable sales at the mall. Tanger had five new stores installed as of Labor Day, and it expects a good winter season with the Shriners convention this month and the Miss USA Pageant set for February.

Broeckling said that some of the stores at Tanger are No. 1 in sales in their respective national chains. Also, the lessening of traffic congestion has been a boon for retailers. The factory outlet malls all have easy access via the recently completed Gretna Road.

Retail prices in Branson are good by comparison to other regions, retailers said. And in retaining moderate prices, Broeck-ling said, competition doesn't hurt.

The outlet claim to fame is "Prices are lower every day," she said. "Since people can expect an average discount of about 45 percent, we like to say 'where the sale never ends.'"

In downtown Branson, Dick Hartley, owner of Dick's 5 and 10, said the downtown area has maintained its position in the sales arena, with plenty of shoppers on the streets.

Hartley said that in his 37 years of business in downtown Branson, he has never had a decrease in sales. With the advent of more specialty shops and discount malls, he feels every merchant will gain because of increased traffic.

Dick's 5 and 10's philosophy takes shoppers back in time. In every trip to market, Hartley is on the lookout for the old type merchandise commonly found in the now vanished dime stores of the '40s and '50s.

His strategy works. He said he has had people who have stopped for short visits on bus tours come back in their cars so they can haul more stuff home.

"The variety store business is an opportunist type business," Hartley said. "You find a niche and fill it."

Bob Warlick, owner of Naturegraphics and president of the Downtown Branson Betterment Association, said the downtown is busy, and the buildings are full with a waiting list.

Downtown merchants are gearing up for a big fall season and expecting a bigger-than-ever September, with 15,000 Shriners scheduled to descend on the area for the convention.

The fall has traditionally been a good selling season, with tour buses bringing loads of retirees to the area.

"Just like the lakes turnover, the merchandise changes to fit the consumer," Warlick said. The emphasis changes in the fall from toys to keepsakes, he added.

Several new businesses have joined the downtown lineup.

The Stafford family has opened a new boutique and gift shop. And on Commercial Street, across from Ball Office Supply, a new '50s-theme grill is opening.

Also new to the downtown area is a coffee and ceramic house. People can visit with each other and have coffee while they create their own ceramic pieces to take home with them.

Special events, such as the fiddlers contest held this summer, also bring potential shoppers to the downtown area. This year's contest offered greater prize money than the state fair, according to Warlick. The sales tax levy provided the money to promote and finance the event.

The city's Adams said there is about a 5 percent increase in the number of tourists to Branson this year compared to last year. The winter events, such as the Miss USA Pageant, are expected to increase the usually slower winter business by an even greater percentage.

The Grand Palace has a two-year contract for the pageant, with an option for three more.

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